Emotional Intelligence is defined as a person’s ability to express and manage feelings in an acceptable manner. This is done while also taking the feelings of others into account.
Teaching your child emotional intelligence has proven to carry many merits over time. Children with high emotional intelligence levels are known to also have improved social skills as they have the necessary conflict resolution skills and form deeper friendships. This carries over into adulthood as a child’s emotional and social skills at a young age can be linked to success further on in life. Children with higher emotional intelligence have also been found to have a decreased risk of mental health disorders (such as social anxiety and depression) later in life.
Don’t worry if your child is not presenting a high level of emotional intelligence yet, you can start teaching them now. This is an important life skill that anyone can learn, at any age. Children just need an adult to show them how. Here are six simple steps to follow:
1. Validate their feelings and listen without judgment.
When your child is having a meltdown, all they need is for you to listen. There is nothing more powerful than feeling understood, and nothing more demeaning than having your feelings diminished. Even if your child is making a mountain out of a molehill, do not tell them that they are being dramatic or try to fix their problem. Simply listen with compassion and understanding.
2. Put a label on what they’re feeling.
By giving it a name, you are helping them identify and understand what they are feeling. Don’t forget to name both positive (joy, excited, thrilled, and hopeful) and negative (angry, sad, shy, upset, painful) emotions.
3. Contain their feelings instead of trying to manage them.
If your child is having a kicking and screaming tantrum, absorb their frustrations by holding them tight for a while. Then give them the space they need to vent and do some soul searching. They need this opportunity to learn how to process the sudden overflow of emotion.
4. Help them understand that emotions are equally pleasant and unpleasant.
Your child needs to know that whether positive or negative, all emotions are acceptable. However, they also need to learn that not all behaviors are acceptable. For example, it’s okay to be angry at someone. But it’s not okay to hurt that person because they made you angry.
5. Lead by example.
Model desired behavior when showing them the appropriate way of expressing feelings. Children need to be taught what is socially acceptable. When upset or angry, model the preferred “use your words” approach rather than screaming and throwing things. A child will always mimic the behavior they see.
6. Teach coping and problem-solving skills.
Now that you’ve taught your child how to identify their feelings, you need to teach them how to cope with them. The most common coping technique is to teach them how to take a few deep breathes when angry. Turn it into a game or pretend that they are doing a huge favor (“I’m getting so hot. Could you please blow my face and cool me down?”). Now that they have a clearer mind, guide them in identifying the problem and how to fix it. By coaching your child in brainstorming at least five possible solutions, you have diverted their attention away from the problem. Each of the five solutions should then be evaluated to choose the best one.
(Bonus Tip: When your child does something wrong, use this method as part of your discipline technique. Providing guidance will help your child identify the fault and how to avoid it in the future)
Remember that teaching emotional intelligence is an ongoing endeavor. This is a skill that needs to continuously be practiced and improved. It is not something that can do any harm in the long-run, it can only create a more level headed adult. Use every act as an opportunity for ongoing support and guidance, helping your child develop the emotional intelligence and mental strength to succeed later in life.